Government pleased with lockdown compliance, says weekend beach crowds spread the virus, warns municipalities against independent action

Mar 19, 2020 | 17 comments

Following the second day of Ecuador’s national health emergency lockdown, Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner says the government is generally pleased with compliance. “People understand the seriousness of the situation and most are sheltering in place as ordered,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Streets in most Ecuadorian cities were mostly empty on Wednesday. (El Comercio)

A new focus of attention for Sonnenholzner and Ministry of Health officials is the “alarming” increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Guayaquil and Guayas Province. Of Ecuador’s total of 168 confirmed cases Wednesday night, 128 are in Guayas Province, triple Monday’s count. “We are extremely worried about this and it is why we are starting the curfew earlier there at 4 p.m.,” Sonnenholzner said. “We are in continuous contact with Mayor [Cynthia] Viteri and may extend the curfew again.”

Viteri says it’s possible the curfew could be moved up to 2 p.m. or even noon if cases continue to spike, leaving only the mornings for residents to shop for food and other essentials. “We have no choice but to put the community health first,” she said.

Sonnenholzner and the health ministry are particularly worried about the large crowds that gathered at the beaches in Playas and Salinas on recent weekends. “Unfortunately, the crowds offer ideal transmission grounds for the coronavirus and many of the beachgoers are taking the disease back home to Guayaquil and Cuenca and other communities,” said Minister of Health Catalina Andramuño.

A street vendor in Guayaquil receives a warning to shut down his operation on Tuesday.

Newspaper and social media photos from last weekend show sunbathers crowded onto several south coast beaches. “It is clear from the images that people were not practicing social distancing and we are afraid we will see massive increases in cases in the coming days and weeks as a result,” she said.

Another challenge to anti-virus efforts, says Sonnenholzner, is independent action being taken by municipal and cantonal governments. The vice president emphazied that the national government has ultimate authority during the crisis.

On Wednesday morning, Santa Elena Mayor Otto Vera ordered roads blocked from Guayas and Manabi Provinces, claiming the action was necessary to protect his citizens from the virus. “This was an illegal and the government has removed the blockades,” Sonnenholzner said. “Any local action that is not coordinated with the national government will not be tolerated,” he said, adding that all emergency-related activity is being managed by the National Emergency Operations Committee (COE).

On Wednesday night, Sonnenholzner said he had talked to Vera and other mayors and said the conflict had been resolved.

The government has another crisis on its hands due the collapse of world oil prices, which closed below $25 a barrel Wednesday afternoon. “At any other time, this would be the news of the day,” said Sonnenholzner. “Ecuador is experiencing its worst financial crisis since 1999 and 2000 but obviously, concerns about the virus come first.” The country depends on oil revenue for 30 to 40 percent of its national budget.

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